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The Mystery Woman Who Can Do It All : Murder. Racism. Abuse. Rochelle Majer Krich--writer, teacher, mom--knows how to make conflicts between good and evil juicy.

December 16, 1994|ROBERT EPSTEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Why, the question occurs, is a nice Jewish woman--mother, wife, educator, daughter of Holocaust survivors--writing mystery novels about serial killers, rapists, abusers, psychopaths, racists and the problem of sexual harassment in the Los Angeles Police Department?

Rochelle Majer Krich laughs.

"Maybe I have to get out my frustrations. No, no, no." She shakes her head as the laugh returns briefly. "I would not connect the Jewish with the mystery, except for two things. One, Judaism in general deals with good versus evil in the Biblical sense. And, two, mysteries deal with good versus evil. Period."

A smile replaces the laugh. "That's why I explore the psychological aspects of a crime, not just the puzzle aspect."

The West Los Angeles writer has become a sort of California cottage industrialist, producing a rapid succession of L.A.-based novels about all of the above--murder, abuse, etc.--with subplots that venture into such sectarian concerns as \o7 the get\f7 , the traditional Orthodox Jewish divorce.

Example: Her latest novel, "Angel of Death" (Mysterious Press/Warner Books, 1994), deals not only with murder and abuse but also with an unpopular ACLU case, a neo-Nazi march, militant Jewish activists and a female LAPD detective who discovers a secret about her background.

Krich's first novel came out in 1990, two years after she had decided she would take on a third career along with her teaching and family responsibilities. Since then, four other novels have been published and a sixth, "Speak No Evil," is due in early 1996.

And Hollywood has made its inevitable call. Her first published novel, "Where's Mommy Now?" (Windsor NY), has been adapted by film producer Bruce Cohn Curtis, who changed the title to "Perfect Alibi" with Teri Garr, Hector Elizondo and Kathleen Quinlan. Curtis has optioned another of Krich's books while her two female-detective mysteries have drawn the attention of other producers.

Much about Krich seems to be in such multiples:

* Mother of six children, ranging from 10 to 22, all at home except for one college student.

* English department chair for both the boys and girls campuses of an orthodox private high school in Los Angeles.

* Teacher for 18 years.

* Wife for 23.

No wonder, she says, that her children teased her when her first published book came out with the title "Where's Mommy Now?"

Well, if it's a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, Krich would be in the classroom or department office or grading papers.

If it's Tuesday or Thursday, she would be writing or doing research.

If it's Friday night or Saturday, she and her family would be celebrating their Sabbath.

And Sunday? "So often it, too, becomes a writing day," she says. "But not everything is balanced that neatly. Sometimes you agonize over the choices you have to make. For example, my cooking since I began writing has suffered tremendously. At one time I envisioned myself as a sort of Julia Child. That's no longer the case. I just don't have the time.

"Sometimes I do momentarily forget to pick up the kids when I am writing but they are all self-sufficient now. I no longer have infants who need physical attention, but the older children need more emotional attention and when that occurs I have to put away the writing. Their emotional needs take precedence."

Why, along with the careers of motherhood and teaching, did she pursue a third career--the always unsettling business of writing?

"It is a fantasy," she says. "In elementary school I thought of being a Broadway musical star, but it was writing that mesmerized me. Writing was, I thought, something that happened to others. So I have to give a fellow mystery writer, Jonathan Kellerman, some credit.

"We knew each other at the Rambam Yeshiva High School in Los Angeles and then he became famous as a writer. Now here was someone famous that I knew, someone from our community who had gained recognition. He wasn't a remote Tom Clancy or a John Grisham, but someone real so I told myself, 'You know what? I'm going to try this.'

"What also helped was that my husband, Hershie, who is an engineer at TRW, had been bugging me, telling me to stop talking about writing. 'Sit down and do it,' he said. I did."

Nine months later, Krich had 700 pages of her first mystery, then titled "The Get," going out to publishers . . . and coming back . . . and going out . . . and coming back. . . .

"I quickly became sick of one phrase that is used so often in the rejection letters: 'In this crowded marketplace. . . .' "

She put that manuscript away, started another and seven months later sent "Where's Mommy Now?" to an agent who, she says, said he liked the plot, the characters, the dialogue, the narrative.

"I began to visualize a Beverly Hills home, a Rolls Royce," she says, "until a few weeks later he told me, 'You know, I'm not so sure about the plot, the characters, the dialogue, the narrative and if you redo the book I'll take another look.'

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